Streams are potential hotspots for retention and removal of NO3−, and understanding the mechanisms that enhance NO3− reactivity in stream systems is critical for predicting and preventing eutrophication. Both dissolved organic C (DOC) and dissolved O2 (DO) influence NO3− removal processes. Assessing the individual impacts of NO3−, DO, and DOC concentrations on stream NO3− removal is difficult because these factors covary and are coupled through the C and N cycles. We used an experimental approach to quantify the influences of NO3−, DOC, and DO on NO3− transport in headwater streams of the Ipswich and Parker River watersheds (Massachusetts, USA) with contrasting levels of DOC and DO. In a 1st set of experiments, we added NO3− to address how uptake kinetics differed between a low-DO/high-DOC stream (Cedar Swamp Creek) and a high-DO/low-DOC stream (Cart Creek). In a 2nd set of experiments, we manipulated, for the first time at the reach scale, both DO and DOC in a factorial experiment. DO was added to the low-DO stream by injecting O2 and was removed from the high-DO stream by adding sodium sulfite. DOC was added both alone and in combination with the DO manipulations. NO3− concentration was an important control of NO3− uptake velocity in our study streams, consistent with previous findings. The results of the DOC and DO manipulations suggested that DO determines whether a stream has net NO3− uptake or production and that the presence of DOC magnifies the DO response processes. Addition of DOC by itself did not lead to increased NO3− uptake. In addition, we observed organic matter priming effects, wherein the addition of labile organic matter resulted in accelerated metabolism of naturally occurring DOC in the water column. Priming effects have not been reported previously in stream systems. Results from our experiments suggest that NO3− uptake in streams might arise from complex interactions among DOC, DO, and NO3−, and ultimately, from the influence of DO on dominant stream processes.


Earth Systems Research Center

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Journal of the North American Benthological Society


University of Chicago Press

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This is an article published by University of Chicago Press in Journal of the North American Benthological Society in 2009, available online: